Palisades Library History

Palisades Neighborhood Library

The Palisades Neighborhood Library at 4901 V St. NW, the library's sixth-oldest location, opened to the public on Nov. 20, 1964. The building is the second home of the library, which was started as a subbranch in a one-room schoolhouse in 1928. 

The present building was built under the D.C. Public Works Program at a cost of approximately $450,000. It was designed by Albert Goenner and Associates of Bethesda in collaboration with the D.C. Department of Buildings and Grounds. Minmar Builders of D.C. was the contractor, and construction was supervised by James A. Blaser, Director of the D.C. Department of Buildings and Grounds. The building is modern in appearance, with a facade faced with red brick, ceramic mosaic tile and an entrance area with a large plate glass display window. At the time of its opening, the Palisades Library building was one of the largest in the public library systemm with approximately 20,000 square feet of space and a potential book capacity of 60,000 volumes. The library is situated near the commercial section of MacArthur Boulevard, the principal thoroughfare of the Palisades neighborhood it serves.

From one-room schoolhouse to library subbranch

Palisades Library, 1928A library for what was then called the Potomac Heights neighborhood was first proposed in 1927. A bill introduced into Congress outlining a five-year building program for the DC Public Library included funds for a new subbranch. It was justified as follows: "It is planned to have the library officials take over the Conduit Road School...for library purposes at such time as the new Conduit Road School is completed...The cost of making alterations to present building should not exceed $500.” The Conduit Road School was a one-room schoolhouse built in 1864 and used as a public school until June 1928 when it was replaced by the newly built Francis Scott Key School. To convert the school building to a library, a small annex was added to provide a workroom and staff kitchen. The Conduit Road Subbranch opened on Nov. 27, 1928.

A patron wrote, “Its many windows furnish an abundance of light and air, as well as restful country smells and sounds and vistas... Two long mahogany tables and inviting Windsor chairs in middle-size and little-size editions replace the stiff benches of yore...”

The schoolhouse was regarded from the beginning as a temporary solution to the area’s need for a library. Dr. George F. Bowerman, head librarian of the D.C. Public Library, was reported to believe at the time of the initial proposal that “although [the school house] is a frame structure of limited size...it would afford that rapidly growing portion of the city a convenient and comfortable Neighborhood Library until a more permanent and commodious branch could be erected there.” The library contained only 1,320 square feet, and at the time it was replaced in 1964, it housed some 12,000 volumes.

Changing names, locations

Palisades Neighborhood LibraryThe library was renamed the MacArthur Boulevard Branch on Nov. 16, 1942, following the renaming of Conduit Road for General Douglas MacArthur in March 1942. The name was again changed on March 24, 1950, to the Palisades Branch after the Citizens’ Association had adopted “The Palisades” as the name for the community.

Some library patrons had been advocating the construction of a new library as early as 1935, but World War II intervened. The drive to build a new library gained momentum again in the mid-1950s. Plans for a new Palisades Neighborhood Library were included in the D.C. Public Works Program in the mid-1950s, and in fiscal year 1962, Congress appropriated funds for the acquisition of a site, and for the preparation of plans and specifications. The building was under construction in fiscal year 1963. The total cost of construction of the Palisades Neighborhood Library reached nearly $450,000, according to the D.C. building permit issued in November 1962.

The Palisades Library was designed by Albert O. Goenner (1913-91). Goenner, who was the son of a Washington architect of the same name, graduated from Catholic University in 1936 with a degree in architecture. He worked for the government and during World War II served with the Navy Seabees. After the war, he worked for Kass Realty designing commercial buildings and then went into practice for himself. Goenner specialized in public and commercial buildings. The Palisades Branch was one of two libraries that Goenner designed under the D.C. Public Works program, the other being the West End Branch.

The new library was dedicated on Nov. 19, 1964, with Walter N. Tobriner, president of the Board of Commissioners, serving as the principal speaker. The new library was open to serve the public from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday, a total of 72 hours a week, compared with the 35 hours a week that the previous subbranch had maintained. The new branch had a staff of 14, exclusive of custodians. Its collection totaled 35,000 volumes, and its first year circulation was 78,000.

Big in size, community enthusiasm

At the time of its opening, the Palisades Branch was one of the largest branches in the public library system with approximately 20,000 square feet of space and a potential book capacity of 60,000 volumes. It consisted of two floors and a basement. There were few fixed walls -- in order to obtain the maximum use of floor space and to provide flexibility in the administration of services. 

The library building was built of fireproof materials. The exterior walls had a red brick facing trimmed with ceramic mosaic tile; the interior walls were painted cinderblock; and the windows were set in metal frames. The floors were constructed of reinforced concrete covered in asphalt tile, and the ceilings of acoustical fiberglass.

The Palisades Branch has always enjoyed strong community support. At the time of the 1964 opening, it was predicted that “because of the manifest interest of the residents of the area in getting the best possible library service, it is anticipated that the new Palisades Branch will be one of the most actively used in the city’s Public Library system.”

Although members of the community had been instrumental in the creation of the Conduit Road Subbranch and its development into a full-fledged neighborhood library, they did not formally organize until the library was threatened by budget cuts in 1980. The Friends of Palisades Library was formed in the fall of 1980, when Mayor Marion Barry proposed a $2.8 million citywide cut in library spending for fiscal 1982. The cut would have necessitated the closing of six libraries, and Palisades was rumored to be one of them. Four hundred people joined the Friends of the Palisades Library, and, in addition to providing political support, the organization successfully sought to increase circulation and to provide funding to compensate for cuts in magazine subscriptions and other services.

In November 2004, the Palisades Library celebrated its 40th anniversary in its current location.  The library continues to play an important part in the community.